Plans to redevelop Arish underway, Bir al-Abd becomes battleground between militants and Armed Forces
 
 

Arish redevelopment plans underway as security forces evacuate a number of posts in the city center

A plan to redevelop a number of areas in al-Arish – first announced in mid-August by North Sinai Governor General Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha – began two weeks ago. The initial phase of the plan is expected to cost LE35 million with an additional allocation of LE380 million from the Ministry of Housing thereafter.

Work began in the Banque du Caire square, located near the coast, with the middle lane of the square being knocked down in preparation for its redevelopment.

Meanwhile, in downtown Arish, authorities announced that the city’s main taxi and microbus stop would be moved from al-Rifai square to the east bank of the Arish valley, in front of one of the bridges connecting the valley’s two banks. The move was met with criticism by residents of Arish who consider it far from the main population center of the city, yet construction of taxi and microbus lanes is already underway.

In the city center, sand piles surrounding a security checkpoint near the Arish city council have been replaced by concrete barriers, according to the council’s official Facebook page.

The redevelopment plan also includes the redeployment of army troops to military posts located within residential areas. The Al Zohour sports arena and the area near the school of architecture – both located on Assiut street  – were cleared of all soldiers, weapons and heavy machinery. The area was handed over to the city council, which announced that it would be developed into a “public outlet for the residents of Arish.”

In addition, military and police personnel involved in a joint security campaign in the city evacuated their positions in the areas of Samaran and Fawakhriyah after nearly a month of regular security sweeps and arrests of suspects. The troops were redeployed along Assiut street and Atlawi square. 

The troops were deployed in Arish following an attack carried out by the Province of Sinai – the Islamic State affiliate in the peninsula – on checkpoints in the city center in late June that left an officer, a civilian and six conscripts dead, and injured eight others.

Kidnappings and shootings as Bir al-Abd turns into a battleground between Armed Forces and Province of Sinai

With the heavy security measures put in place in Arish since Operation Sinai began in 2018, the Province of Sinai has refocused its attacks on the city of Bir al-Abd, located some 80 kilometers west of Arish. 

The security measures included building a wall around southern Arish, the establishment of a safe zone around the airport, and setting up fortified military bases in the city which have all restricted the militant group’s ability to operate in or around Arish.

On the evening of September 2, gunmen stormed the village of Masfaq in eastern Bir al-Abd and kidnapped four members of the Dawarga tribe, one of the largest tribes in the area. According to local sources, gunmen set up a checkpoint on the road and stopped cars passing through to check the IDs of passengers. At the same time, militants raided the village and kidnapped two members of the Dawarga tribe, along with one of their sons, stole a car and fled.

Local sources said they saw explosions and heard loud booms after the militants withdrew, in what they presumed may have been drone strikes by the Armed Forces on targets south of the city.

Since July, the areas between Bir al-Abd and Rawda village, and the areas around neighboring villages, have been turned into a fierce battleground in the years-long fight between the Armed Forces and Province of Sinai. This is the fourth major area in which the militant group has conducted major operations, after the cities of Rafah, Sheikh Zuweid, and Arish. 

This is not the first incident where members of the Dawarga tribe have been kidnapped by Province of Sinai militants. In July, militants stormed the village of Sadat with the aim of kidnapping the tribe’s head fisherman. When they didn’t find him they kidnapped a younger member of the tribe, though he was released a week later.

On several occasions, the militant group has set up ambushes on the Arish-Qantara International Road in areas near Bir al-Abd and handed out flyers warning residents against cooperating with security forces or taking part in any construction projects affiliated with the military.

One of the deadliest incidents took place in mid-July when militants kidnapped four civilians from villages near Bir al-Abd and beheaded them, leaving their bodies near the village of Amorya. And on August 29, an army conscript was killed by sniper fire while on duty in the village of Rawda. 

Stray bullets continue to claim lives

In Sheikh Zuweid, a girl was killed on September 1 after being struck in the head by a stray bullet as she was collecting figs from a tree by her house in the village of Abu Tawila, according to local sources.

Ambulances could not reach the village and the few residents remaining in Sheikh Zuweid were unable to provide medical assistance to the girl, sources told Mada Masr. The girl was carried by cart to a point the ambulance was able to reach and was transferred to Arish General Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The incident comes on the heels of a number of civilians being injured and killed by stray bullets in Arish and Sheikh Zuwayed over the last few months, prompting North Sinai residents to launch a social media campaign under the hashtag #end_stray_bullets.

An estimated 621 civilians were killed between July 2013 and mid-2017 by stray bullets and shelling from unknown sources, while another 1,247 were injured, according to statistics from the North Sinai Social Solidarity Directorate.

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